With ‘Moon Knight,’ Director Mohamed Diab Pulls Off The Impossible

Moon Knight is a very complicated show. One that, on paper, probably shouldn’t work. A show that dabbles in horror, comedy, adventure, and a serious discussion about dissociative identity disorder almost feels like it works through sheer force of will between its star, Oscar Isaac, and his collaboration with the filmmakers, one of them being Mohamed Diab, who directed over half the episodes, including the premiere. With Moon Knight, Oscar Isaac is going for it.

It helps that our protagonist, Steven (played by Isaac), knows about as much as we do. He’s a timid man who hears voices in his head. One is from Mark (also Isaac), a very confident alter ego. Another is from an Egyptian moon god with the booming voice of F. Murray Abraham. Steven is prone to blacking out, then waking up in far-off lands and having no clue what transpired in-between. He also sometimes becomes an entity known as Moon Knight. (Even writing this out is confusing and I’m still a bit dumbfounded that this series doesn’t just work, but is excellent.)

For his part, the Egyptian-born Diab has been making headlines lately, taking on Wonder Woman and The Rock for their depictions of Egypt. In that their depictions look nothing like Egypt. And, no, as Diab says ahead, Moon Knight also did not physically film in Cairo, but, as he explains they got as close as possible.

I guess you could say this with any project, but there’s a world where this easily does not work. There’s so much going on it’s remarkable this works as well as it does.

Smart, smart question. The biggest challenge for the director of this show was: how are we going to make this one unit? We have action, thriller, horror, comedy, and we’re talking about dissociative identity disorder very seriously. And at some point, the drama’s actually moving, so how can we feel that we’re not switching on and off from genres?

Right, that’s tough to do, because if it’s too scattershot it won’t work.

Absolutely. And I don’t know, we just kept working on this script, kept developing it, and kept going back to its core. And its core is the character study of it. Its core is someone who’s trying to live with himself and discovering that he is pulled into this crazy world. And in the same time, I think Jeremy Slater, who created the show, was leaning towards the Lemire run, which is disorienting, and it feels like we are in someone’s head. It’s just like you want to see the world. That was our intention, seeing the world from someone who’s living with DID.

I like how in the first episode we are only with Steven. In a show like this where it’s so complicated, if all the characters have everything figured out and know what’s going on right away, we in the audience going to be confused. But when the main character is as confused as we are, it brings us into it.

That was intentional. There’s so much to unfold, so much to talk about. So if the two of you, I mean the audience and the character, are having that journey? We can understand or actually wait and understand with him. And I think one of the most brilliant things from Marvel and Jeremy was grounding Steven into an everyday guy, because usually he isn’t. He’s actually a rich guy in the comics. Grounding him into an everyday guy and discovering, seeing things through his eyes and then discovering that he has another identity and going through that. I love that. I love that about it.

I’ll say this before I ask because when you watch the show it works great. But I’ll admit when the trailer came out, we all think we know what Oscar Isaac sounds like, so when you first hear his Steven voice, it’s like, what is this? Were you worried about the reaction out of context?

Well, in everything you do, you worry about how people are going to receive it. Because I was working closely with Oscar, I have absolute trust in what he’s doing. By the way, he’s the one who came up with this accent. And I thought it was such a brilliant add to the story because it immediately distinguished between the two of them. But I would say that what really makes the difference between them is his acting. He becomes each one of them. I always tell him, you get taller when you are Mark. You see the demeanor changes.

Yeah, now having seen it, it makes sense why everyone wants to be involved. Oscar is going all out in this…

He carries the show on his shoulders. But I want to tell you something to what you’re saying. Someone was asking me, what’s your dream project as a comic book fan or whatever? And I thought about it for a second, and then I said, I already did it. It is this show. What else would I dream of? You know what I mean? It has every element that any director would want to do. And at its core, my small intimate films, this feels like an extension of them. I feel like I brought who I am to the show.

I agree. And this is such a self-contained story. There’s so much going on in this, I don’t need anything else in the MCU to happen or show up…

I am proud that it stands on its own. It didn’t need any help from any other crossovers or whatever. And I’m proud that a lot of people are telling us that if there was no Marvel logo, you would think this is a different show. It stands on its own. It’s different. And it shows from the numbers of the trailer that people actually are eager to see something new.

When you said this is already your dream superhero project. Well, if there is another one you want to do, you’ve got every genre in this one to show someone to convince them to let you do it.

I agree, but it’s going to be… It is a risk, and it’s always crazy to do this recipe, and it worked. So I hope one day, I’m dreaming of one day expanding that world if I got the chance. By the way, Marvel doesn’t say anything about the future, so no one knows. I think it’s back to the fans. They decide if they want to see the character again or not. I’m optimistic that they’re going to love him.

I saw you mention that Marvel approached you, I think you said, just out of the blue. What does that mean? What does out of the blue mean? How does that work?

What I meant is usually I was writing my own projects. I am someone who doesn’t connect to every project. I only want to pitch to the projects that I feel I was born to do; I’m the best guy to tell that story. So my agents told me that project: it’s written, and they’re looking for a director. So I read it, and then me and Sarah, my wife, we put in this 200-page pitch and we knew right away we were going to get it. This is the project that we’re looking for. It has everything that we want: the drama elements, everything that as a director that I want to show. And it shows Egypt in the past and the future, which is something I’m so interested in. Ironically, one of the challenges was I kept saying I hate it when people shoot Egypt outside Egypt. That’s what we had to do at the end. But I’m so happy with my set designer, Stefania Cella, and my costume designer, Meghan Kasperlik, because they did what I dreamed of. What I kept criticizing in everyone else, they gave me Egypt. And without telling you what I just told you, you wouldn’t know. You would really think it’s Egypt.

Well, that’s what I wanted to ask you because as you just said, criticizing other projects, you’ve been making some headlines the last couple of days. You’re a braver man than me. You know, The Rock, he’s a big guy. I don’t know if you’ve ever been around him, but that’s a very large man.

Well, I want to tell you something. Honestly, the press is just like… I wish we only talked about Moon Knight, but sometimes I think I should focus on what we did, and that’s actually the best answer to those kind of things…

Well, I think you were talking about what you did, and I think what you’ve said are valid complaints. And what I did want to ask is, because you just kind of addressed it, how close did you get to actually getting to film in Egypt? And what was the final barrier to not being able to do that?

We wanted to get into production very fast, so the permits and stuff, it didn’t align with our schedule. Marvel really gave me everything that I dreamed of to create Egypt. We have a great visual effects supervisor, Sean Faden, and as I told you, Meghan and Stefania. The moment that we had that huge square in the middle of Budapest?

Yeah, it looked great.

That is Egypt. And I got all the Egyptian extras there. People, some of them were so emotional, told me, “I haven’t been in Egypt for five years, and I feel I am there.” I felt home all through the shooting because of that square being next to us every day.

Well, I’m out of time. Anyway, I’m over the moon for this. “Over the moon,” I didn’t mean to make a pun.

By the way, I wish we can talk again after seeing the rest of show because it gets darker and more emotional. It gets crazier.

I would love to talk to you again after the show.

I would love that.

‘Moon Knight’ begins streaming on March 30th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.